Windows

How to Fix Windows Registry Errors (And When Not to Bother)

Gavin Phillips Updated 10-07-2020

Did you hear that fixing your registry would speed up your computer? Or did you read somewhere that ‘fixing’ your registry will remedy any Windows malaise on your machine, that a quick registry clean-up will solve your computing problems for good?

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Many of these articles are not only wrong, but some can be downright harmful to your machine in the long run.

Here’s how to identify, isolate, and fix registry problems—and when to just not bother at all.

What Is the Windows Registry?

windows registry editor 2020

The Windows Registry is essentially a massive internal database containing important, machine-specific information regarding almost everything in your machine:

  • System Hardware
  • Installed Software and Drivers
  • System Settings
  • Profile Information

Opening a program, installing new software, and altering your hardware all require Windows to refer to the information contained in the registry. It’s no wonder that when things start to go wrong, ‘experts’ decide to meddle with the registry without understanding the implications.

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In reality, fragments of deleted software registries or orphaned registries are minuscule in size and shouldn’t cause your machine any problems at all.

However, when the time comes to fix a real problem with your registry, it is important to know what you are doing, and the best way is often the easiest.

What Causes a Registry Error?

There are several common causes of registry errors, some worth worrying about, others not:

  1. Orphaned Entries: Not an issue. Orphaned entries occur when you uninstall programs, and small fragments of registry entries are left behind. Many registry fix software will proclaim these are an immediate issue, but in reality, they amount to nothing more than a few kilobytes of data in your machine.
  2. Duplicate Keys: Not an issue. Duplicate keys are made when you reinstall, upgrade, or update software on your machine, including the operating system. Registry fix software will advise that your software will be ‘confused’ by the duplicate entries, slowing your machine, but in reality, this is unlikely.
  3. Fragmented Registry: Not an issue. Similar to duplicate keys, the registry fragments when software is uninstalled, upgraded, or updated.
  4. System Shutdown Errors: Unlikely to cause issues. Each time your computer shuts down, a copy of the registry is saved to the system memory. If your computer is suddenly turned off, or crashes, or dies for another reason, it could cause an issue in the future—but this is unlikely.
  5. Malware and Viruses: Massive issue. Malware and viruses of all types regularly attack and modify the registry and will require immediate attention.

Registry cleaner software will commonly identify issues 1-4 as seriously important, device destroying issues. Realistically, only issue 5 should cause you to take immediate action. If you suspect you have a malware issue, check out our complete malware removal guide The Complete Malware Removal Guide Malware is everywhere these days, and eradicating malware from your system is a lengthy process, requiring guidance. If you think your computer is infected, this is the guide you need. Read More .

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How to Create a Windows Registry Backup

You should only fix and repair the Windows Registry when necessary. If you have ever encountered a particularly irksome piece of malware or virus, you will know the extreme lengths some of these infections go to disguising their activity on your machine.

windows registry editor export backup 2020

First of all, before attempting to alter, fix, or delete registry fields, you should always back up the Windows Registry to a secure location.

  1. Input regedit in the Start Menu search box, and select the Best Match
  2. Head to File > Export
  3. In the dialogue box, enter a useful name such as regbackup, select a useful location—Documents is the default—and click Save

You should also note that the time to back up the Windows Registry is when you have a clean computer. If you try to create a backup when you suspect there is malware on your system, you’ll back up the malicious entries, too.

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How to Restore a Windows Registry Backup

Once you have a Windows Registry backup, you need to know how to restore it. There are several ways you can restore a Windows Registry backup, depending on the status of the machine.

1. Basic Windows Registry Restore

The basic method works when your computer is healthy or in a low-level state of repair.

  1. Input regedit in the Start Menu search box, and select the Best Match
  2. Head to File > Import
  3. Browse to the location of your Windows Registry backup and select Open

Barring any outrageous, unaccountable errors to your system, you should now be able to back up and restore the Windows Registry.

Another, slightly quicker method for registry restoration is to simply browse to the backup location, right-click the registry file and select merge. The .REG file will be automatically imported to your registry.

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2. Restore the Registry from Safe Mode

If the Windows Registry does not restore from your standard Windows account, you can boot into Windows Safe Mode How to Boot in Safe Mode on Windows 10 Facing Windows booting problems? Safe Mode is a built-in Windows 10 troubleshooting feature you should try first. Read More and try again.

windows 10 advanced startup settings

  1. Type advanced start-up in your Start Menu search bar and select the Best Match. Now, under Advanced start-up, select Restart Now. Clicking Restart Now will restart your system in recovery mode where you will encounter three options: Continue, Troubleshoot, or Turn Off Your PC.
  2. Select Troubleshoot > Advanced Options. You now have a new range of options to choose from.
  3. Select Start-up Settings > Restart. Your system will restart. The Start-up Settings screen will load after you reboot. From here, choose the requisite option for Safe Mode.

From here, you can follow the steps in the first section to restore your Windows Registry.

Use System Restore to Fix the Windows Registry

Before using more advanced Windows Registry restore options, such as via the Command Prompt, you can attempt to use a system restore point. Microsoft advocates using a system restore point rather than a manual Windows Registry restoration, simply because using a system restore point is much easier.

Windows will set automatic system restore points, so long as the feature is switched on—or something else hasn’t switched it off.

Press Windows + S and search for restore.  Select the create a restore point result. This will open System Properties > System Protection where you can check whether protection is on, configure settings, and create a restore point right now.

windows 10 system protection properties options

If you want to use a system restore point, select System Restore, and then the restore point you want to use. Then follow the instructions.

One nice Windows System Restore feature is the ability to Scan for affected programs. If you select your system restore point, then scan to see a list of the programs the system restore point will affect or delete.

windows 10 system restore points

Malware and viruses can disable System Restore and delete restore points. Moreover, your own anti-virus may resist any attempts to copy or modify core Windows settings, negating the effects of System Restore. However, as shown above, at each critical Windows Update, your system should automatically set a system restore point.

Nonetheless, check that you have this feature turned on and create a fresh restore point for your peace of mind.

Manually Restore the Windows Registry

You can manually restore the Windows Registry using the Command Prompt. On some occasions, Windows will not boot into Safe Mode, or other issues stop the restoration of the Windows Registry. In those cases, you can use the manual restore option.

This process is a little more complex than the previous sections. Unfortunately, it also requires a little prior planning, too.

Since Windows 10 version 1803, there is no automatic Windows Registry backup. Prior to 1803, Windows would take a Registry backup every 10-days via the RegIdleBackup service.

Microsoft stopped the automatic backup to reduce the size of Windows 10 footprint with devices lacking removable storage options in mind. Also, Microsoft recommends using a system restore point to repair a corrupt registry.

Learning how to use system restore is invaluable. Here’s how to use a factory reset or a system restore point to fix How to Factory Reset Windows 10 or Use System Restore Learn how System Restore and Factory Reset can help you survive any Windows 10 disasters and recover your system. Read More your Windows 10 machine.

Switch Automatic Registry Backups On

Reinstating automatic Windows Registry backups is a simple process involving a registry tweak.

First, Input regedit in the Start Menu search box, and select the Best Match.

Then, press CTRL + F, then copy and paste the following:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Configuration Manager

Right-click in the right panel and select New > DWORD (32-Bit) Value. Change the name to EnablePeriodicBackup. Then double-click the DWORD and change the value to 1. Press OK. You’ll have to restart your system for the change to take place.

windows 10 switch automatic registry backups on

1. Enter Advanced Startup Options

If you do have an automatic backup, you can attempt to restore the registry manually. First, you need to boot into the advanced start-up options.

  1. Head to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery
  2. Select Restart Now

Alternatively, open your Start Menu, then hold the Shift key and press Restart.

Once the menu options, press Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Command Prompt

2. Change the Directory

When the Command Prompt opens, it will default to X:\Windows\System32. This isn’t the actual location of your Windows installation, so we need to move to the correct drive letter before proceeding.

By and large, your Windows installation is found on the C:\ drive, unless you move it somewhere else. However, recovery mode tends to boot your Windows installation under a different drive letter, usually D:\. To find the correct drive, input the following:

dir D:\Win*

The Command Prompt will list the directory contents, so you’ll know it is the correct drive.

Now, enter the following commands, in order:

cd d:\windows\system32\config

xcopy *.* C:\RegBack\

cd RegBack

dir

Check the dates of the files in the RegBack directory. If they are from before your issue began, you can enter the following commands:

copy /y software ..

copy /y system ..

copy /y sam ..

And yes, the two periods are part of the command.

Following this, reboot your computer normally.

Use a Windows PE Recovery Disc

If you cannot enter the Windows recovery mode, Safe Mode, or otherwise, there is a final option. You can use a Windows PE recovery drive to attempt to fix or restore your Windows Registry.

A Windows PE recovery CD or USB is a Windows environment that you boot from the disc or USB, before your operating system loads. Booting from a USB allows you to fix issues with the host machine, especially handy if the host has malware or other issues.

hirens boot cd windows pe

There are several bootable Windows PE-based recovery discs 5 Bootable Windows PE-Based Recovery Discs That'll Save Your System Do you have a Windows system rescue disc nearby? If not, consider making a Windows Preinstallation Environment (PE) disc today. Read More available. Once you boot into the Windows PE environment, you can attempt to restore the Windows Registry using one of the previous methods.

When Not to Bother Fixing Windows Registry Errors

So, when should you not bother fixing the Windows Registry? The answer is that most of the time, you should steer clear of the registry unless you know what you’re doing, or a technician advises you to make specific edits.

Some malware removal guides will advise you to remove specific registry entries. In some cases, they are right. But in many cases purported quick registry fixes to speed your computer are almost always snake oil solutions.

Not every person who advises registry fixes is a charlatan, and those that know what they are doing can eek a little more performance out of your device. Plus, several nice little tweaks can alter Windows appearance: removing the irritating shortcut symbol for is one example.

But as we said, as soon as you dive into the registry, make a backup!

What Happens If I Delete the Entire Registry?

Thankfully, Windows is full of fail-safes. Unless you really try and also understand how to execute advanced commands, you cannot just CTRL+A, DELETE your entire registry. That would cause your system to implode, bringing the very fabric of the universe down with it.

Seriously though, Windows doesn’t want you to delete the entire registry, because your computer will not work.

Only Repair the Windows 10 Registry When You Have To

Errors, corruption, issues, viruses, ransomware, scamware, and malware do happen. Protect yourself and the Windows Registry by:

  • Making a system restore point
  • Taking a system image
  • Making a registry backup

And save them all to external drives for extra protection!

As you have read, you should only fix the Windows Registry if you have a specific issue with it. If you do delve into the registry, make sure to take a backup before editing or deleting any values.

Are you using a shared computer? You might want to learn how to disable access to the Registry Editor in Windows 10 How to Disable Access to the Registry Editor in Windows 10 Here's how to disable access to the Registry Editor in Windows 10, using either the Group Policy Editor or a third-party tool. Read More .

Image Credits: Blue Vista Design/Shutterstock

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Registry Cleaner, Troubleshooting, Windows Registry, Windows Tips.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. KitKat Alien
    November 6, 2016 at 4:08 am

    Omg well I had a bad day with another tutorial, my question was how could I delete for sure a program and then install the free trial, buut well as i did it another copy my computer turned black and as I turned it on again it only showed the logo and then nothing... i cannot see nothing :C what or how can I fix this? what happened?

  2. Udit srivastava
    October 31, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    Can u also post how to fix the registry on windows 10?

  3. Deo Estrada
    September 12, 2016 at 4:31 am

    I just want to let you know how greatful I am for this post! This literally saved my laptop from the constant BSOD, due an INACCESSIBLE BOOT DEVICE STOP Error. The command prompt registry restore saved my thesis and now my laptop is now booted up and running! You are a GODSEND!

  4. jon
    May 29, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    running windows 10 on a new computer laptop just 2 months old. something is hijacking my home page and a scan showed about 289 registry errors. McAfee wants $190 to fix the problem. anything available that does not cost so much?? jon

    • Rick
      August 14, 2016 at 7:09 pm

      what browser are you using? IF you will describe your problem to me I wiol be glad to help you fix that FREE of charge. DO not pay mcafee or anybody a outragoues price like that. Hit me up and I got you bro if your still having that problem or other issues. I work on computers and I cant stand it when people try and take advantage of others when it comes to simple computer repairs. Matter of fact it pisses me off so hit me up. Name is Rick

      • Anonymous
        August 22, 2016 at 8:54 pm

        hello Rick I don't know if you got my first request, I have to do a lot of restarts or reboot offen, I am running 8.1 with a Dell computer any ideas, thxs Jon

        • RICKY
          August 23, 2016 at 1:05 am

          I dont believe that i did,but whats up though? I mean explain to me what the symptoms are for the reboots and so forth. what s the computer doing. i need a little more info to work with so i give a good solution. so please give me as much detail as you can

        • RICKY
          August 23, 2016 at 1:08 am

          are you running windows 8.1 now instead of windows 10? and is your browser still being hijacked like you were saying before? Let me know

  5. RIFAA
    March 28, 2016 at 10:00 am

    my PC is running 8.1 and all my files (pdf,excel,word) corrupted by virus The properties file type are CERBER.file kindly help me to solve

  6. Mary bittner
    February 1, 2016 at 12:26 am

    I have Windows 8.1 pro and I am trying to update to Windows 10 on my dell 2720 all in one 64 but I need a product key. My system tells me I have not yet activated Windows. I've tried entering my product code on my pic to no avail, and key key on office 2013 does not work either. Any thoughts?

    • Paul
      February 16, 2016 at 11:21 pm

      Do a quick search on windows activation.. This does require getting rid of updates etc... However I had bought a system prebuilt and when I did the process it got activated.. I wasnt worried about all the updates because I was moving to Windows 10 and it took care of that

  7. Andrea
    January 15, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks man, problem solved. My problem was caused by CCleaner. OS: Windows 10 64x

  8. Prachetas K.
    December 3, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Hi! This is an error I'm having with my Windows 8 64-Bit. I was using it, and one day, all my apps stopped working and said "the extended attributed files have stopped working" or something like that. I searched up a tutorital how to fix it, and, it worked. For that seperate error. All my other apps have stopped working, and the new error is "class not registered." I tried searching for answers onlint, but they only have solutions to seperate apps, and none of them had ALL apps not working. The only one working are Skype and Google, all the others are null. Please help.

  9. Anonymous
    October 27, 2015 at 1:46 am

    I'm a part time light tech, I rarely play with the registry as its often not the problem, but lately my own computer has slowed , I looked at it with system intels autoruns and found a very high level of purple empty items , I have some reg backups but their too old . I used wise reg cleaner but it hasn't helped . As its just this should I leave it alone and look at other issues or try to resolve all these empty items ?

    Bob from Montreal

    • Gavin Phillips
      November 3, 2015 at 3:52 pm

      Hey Bob from Montreal.

      If you do want to clean the registry, back it up using CCleaner.

      I would think your second course of action was better: look at anything else affecting your system. Run full malware scans and what not, monitor your system resources and look for anything suspicious.

      Good luck.

      • Bob Forrest
        November 12, 2015 at 1:29 am

        Thanks for your response, a did more checking , with a clean machine I set up . Apparently its normal to have empty items the default in process explorer is to not to show them , which proved what you said in the first place , repair only important registry errors . CClean is great especially for finding left overs of the old security tools you have uninstalled . Anyway thanks again.

        Bob from Montreal

        • Gavin Phillips
          November 13, 2015 at 12:15 pm

          No problem, Bob, glad you got sorted out in the end. As ever, thank you for reading!

  10. Gavin
    May 24, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Excellent news, Roberto, glad we have helped out!

  11. Roberto
    May 24, 2015 at 7:03 am

    Hey just wanted to let you know this article just saved my but! Thank you for the well thought out and easy to understand guide

  12. Doc
    January 2, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    "Each time your computer shuts down, a copy of the registry is saved to the system memory." Which is promptly erased when the computer powers off; perhaps you meant *saved to disk*???

    • Gavin
      January 4, 2015 at 10:11 am

      Yes, absolutely.

  13. bvssunnydale1956
    January 2, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Good article. I totally agree with Fik of borg that ERUNT works great - be advised that its WindowsERDNT default registry backup folder can take up a tremendous amount of room over time but is very easy to manually delete the backups (it saves each one into a separate folder by date). Also ERUNT comes with a registry compactor called NTREGOPT that I've never seen cause an issue and seems to work very well (my systems are noticeably zippier after running). I've used both ERUNT/NTREGOPT since 2004 without a single problem. Also I use CCleaners registry cleaner every time I remove a program (I test a lot of software), about 30 times a year, and - unlike many other registry cleaners - have never had a single issue either (it backs up only the changes, which it can restore, and not the whole registry), so I highly recommend everyone contribute a few bucks for their up-keep. But backup, backup, backup is the first rule of computing and, if you don't, then don't whine when you lose everything (which will happen eventually, guaranteed).

  14. Fik of borg
    January 2, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    In a nutshell, this is more a "backup often" than a "how to fix" article.

    In that light, I use ERUNT (Emergency Recovery Utility NT) in a daily scheduled task in every computer I manage. I have it to keep a week of backups on external drives or network shares, so if/when I notice something wrong it's more likely that I have a healthy one. The restore process is command-line, and a copy of the restore program is saved with each backup, so one can restore even in the most basic of safe modes.

    #corrections:
    "4. System Shutdown Errors: Unlikely to cause issue. Each time your computer shuts down, a copy of the registry is saved to the system memory"
    Won't the system memory would be turned off at system shutdown? Do you mean saved to hard disk?

    • Gavin
      January 4, 2015 at 10:12 am

      Yes, sorry about that! ERUNT is a great tool.

  15. Kris
    January 2, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    "bringing the very fabric of the universe down with it." - Ha! Love it! Sometimes it takes hyperbole to get people to listen.

    Great article. Technical enough for an enthusiast but clear enough for a relative newbie. Well done.

    So, I understand that there are very few times messing with the registry is truly necessary. I wonde, then,r why CCleaner, et. al. offer registry cleaning and defragmenting as an integral part of their software. Thoughts?